Chanterelles, cepes, shiitakes, puffballs, morels, oysters, woodears, enokis—if you’re in love with edible fungi, then you’re probably also in love with the fall. It’s the time when many mushroom varieties are at their peak and appear in abundance on both home and restaurant menus. As a bonus, mushrooms are also an excuse—if you need one—to open a bottle of delicious wine. That’s because when the Creator sat down to plan out food and wine pairings, he started off with mushrooms and Pinot Noir. He might have stopped right there because it doesn’t get much better.
Like oysters and Chablis or Champagne and popcorn, Pinot Noir with mushrooms is a truly classic pairing. It’s pretty much foolproof. The truth is that Pinot Noir (red Burgundy in France) is one of the most versatile food wines around. It can support fish dishes—especially salmon, but even rare ahi tuna—as well as veal, turkey, pork, chicken, and of course, duck. Pinot Noir is about finesse, not power. It’s relatively delicate and light in body, complex and intense in flavor, but not heavy. The tannins in Pinot Noir are mild, but it’s a fairly high-alcohol wine with good acidity, which makes it a great food wine. Because Pinot is subtle, Cabernet, Syrah, and Zinfandel tend to be a better match for the heavier flavors of most meat and game. But if there’s one word that you’ll find in almost every description of Pinot Noir, that word is “earthy.” It’s Pinot Noir’s earthiness that makes it such a perfect match for so many mushroom dishes. Powerful yet elegant, Pinot Noir is Bruce Lee to Cabernet’s Schwarzenegger.
The King of Pinot Noir is the great red Burgundy of France’s Bourgogne region, where tiny vineyards produce mouthwatering and wallet-busting world-class wines. But you don’t have to spend a fortune for good Pinot Noir. In recent years, America has stepped up its Pinot Noir quality and especially good examples are coming out of California’s cooler regions like Carneros, Santa Barbara County, Monterey and especially the Russian River Valley of Sonoma. Oregon’s Willamette Valley also produces wonderful Pinot. In addition, New Zealand is making better and better Pinot Noir every year, though Kiwi wine prices tend to be high.
Pinot Noir is usually aged in oak, although lower-priced budget Pinot tends to have less oak character than more pricey bottles. From the best producers, Pinot Noir’s oak is in good balance with the wine’s intense fruitiness. That, combined with Pinot’s distinct silky texture, makes it a wonderful food wine. But again, Pinot Noir’s earthiness—and there’s just no better way to describe it—makes it a slam-dunk with mushrooms or dishes spritzed with truffle oil.
Medium-priced Pinot Noir from France or America goes especially well with mushroom dishes that are on the light side: mushroom salads, grilled portobellos, mushroom omelets, or any dish stuffed with mushroom duxelles (a mix of diced mushrooms sautÃ©ed in butter, shallots and Port). I love Pinot Noir with a dish I prepare occasionally: roasted Anaheim chile peppers stuffed with duxelles and topped with chevre-cream sauce. Sure, you could drink a Chardonnay with that sauce, but the duxelles really beg for Pinot. Some of my preferred medium-priced Pinots are Selby, Faiveley Mercurey, Duck Pond, WillaKenzie, King Estate, Sanford, David Bruce, Rex Hill Vineyards, Ponzi and Calera Central Coast.
For richer dishes like eggs, potatoes, risotto or pasta with black truffles and/or wild mushrooms, you might prefer a meatier version of Pinot Noir—something like an American wine from Robert Sinsky, Etude, Byron, Domaine Drouhin or France’s Ampeau or Lafarge.